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Learning Strategies for Autistic Children

So, you have decided to homeschool your autistic child. Congratulations on choosing what is one of the most rewarding challenges! If I could make a guess, I would assume you’re feeling a little overwhelmed now that you’re comparing curriculum, buying or making manipulatives, and figuring out your daily school schedule.  Just getting ready to homeschool is a huge venture, and I applaud you for making the decision to give your child the best education you possibly can.
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The nurture time you give as a homeschool mom can be the safe place for your child to truly bloom. If your child has autism, you may have decided to keep him or her close during the years crucial for healthy development, but you may not have the tools in your hand to truly help your child grow. It may feel like you’re groping around in the dark, but I’m here to tell you you can do this, even without a degree in Special Education. In this post, I hope to supply you with 10 user-friendly, effective tools for helping your autistic child learn successfully.  
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As you may know, autism has become fairly common in children. According to Autism Speaks (autismspeaks.org), it is estimated that 1 in 59 children are affected by Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which “refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” The thing to remember with autism is that although it has some hallmark characteristics, it doesn’t affect each autistic child the same way. Your child’s behavior is going to be different from that of another child with autism. However, there are some strategies that tend to help kids all across the spectrum.  
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First, I want you to remember that your child’s normal is not most children’s normal. 
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What I mean by this is, don’t let yourself be frustrated when your child behaves unusually. In order for you to truly help your child, you must meet him or  her where he or she is at, seeking to understand and guide the behavior. Your child may become very agitated for what seems to you like no reason at all and start acting in a way that may bring embarrassment and frustration. Instead of reacting negatively to the autistic behavior, remember to keep yourself under control and prepare to use your tool kit. With autism, the key to successful learning is prevention, not reaction. With that foundation laid, let’s give you those 10 tools to work with! 
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1. Establish an appropriate communication system with your child. Depending on where your child is on the autism spectrum, he or she may need to communicate with you in other ways than just speaking and listening. Your child may prefer using sign language, pictures, or even technology to communicate. Don’t assume that because your child does not speak much, he or she does not want to communicate. Find a way that works best for your child. 
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2. Communicate clearly when you speak. What do I mean by this? Your autistic child is likely very literal and needs you to say exactly what you mean. It may seem rude to you, but your child needs you to be very directive. In giving instructions, simply tell him or her exactly what you want him or her to do, in short sentences. If you decide to use figurative language like puns, idioms, or even sarcasm, you must explain exactly what each figure of speech means. This will eliminate frustration for your child, being they don’t have to guess what you are actually saying. 
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3. Use visual cues to communicate. Your child will understand you better if you use corresponding pictures, gestures and facial expressions when you speak. 
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4. Check for understanding. It may seem like what you’ve said couldn’t have been any clearer, but the truth is, your child may still not have quite understood what you said. It will save you a whole lot of future frustration if you take the time to check with your child for understanding. Repeat your instructions, shorten your directions and ask your child to repeat back to you what you’ve said to make sure they’ve heard and understood you. 
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5. Don’t take aggressive or rude behavior personally. Because your child thinks in literal concepts, he or she will likely say what they think or feel very bluntly. Understand that although you are the target, you may not even be the cause of your child’s frustration or anger. Don’t try to give too many verbal directions when your child is upset. Use visuals to tell your child what you want them to do. Then when your child has calmed down, seek to understand what caused your child’s aggressive or rude behavior, teach your child to accurately label what emotions he or she is feeling, and then explicitly tell him or her what behavior is acceptable to express that emotion. 
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6. Model social skills. Autistic kids need to be shown how to behave in social settings. Social skills do not come naturally to your autistic child, but you can teach him or her how to interact with peers by modeling appropriate behavior through role playing. Set up social scenarios for your child and then show him or her exactly how to respond and behave. Your child will learn best by watching you behave appropriately. 
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7. Keep a clear, daily routine. It’s super important for your autistic child to have a set schedule and stick with it. Provide him or her with a daily schedule, and teach him or her to reference it throughout the day. This will provide a sense of security and stability for your child. However, within the set routine, you’ll need to change up the activities, so your child learns to stay flexible. Changes in routine tend to upset the autistic child, so try to avoid creating anxiety by giving your child a warning about the upcoming change. 
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8. Provide a “time out” space for your child. External stimuli can stress your child out. He or she will need a place to relax when there is too much going on. A good “time out” space will have low lighting, be free from excessive visual stimuli, be quiet, have sensory toys, and probably be away from other people. Let your child go to this space to decompress whenever he or she feels anxious or is having a meltdown. 
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9. Keep your voice low and clear. You can keep your child’s anxiety level down by speaking in a calm, low tone and enunciating your words clearly. 
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10. Break up big tasks into small pieces. Little steps taken one at a time will get your child to accomplish big things. You can help your child to avoid anxiety and confusion by giving instructions one at a time, giving fewer choices, and using pictures to show what you mean. 
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These 10 strategies should help you get on track with teaching your autistic child, but don’t stop here! Please keep researching and learning about how to best communicate with and teach your child. For more information on strategies for working with ASD, check out websites such as do2learn.com, and autismspeaks.org. Remember, autism or not, your child is unique and you absolutely can help him or her succeed. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to reach out to others who have autistic children. We can learn from and support each other. 

 

Written by Raquel Soler

Droolees LLC Education Blog Contributor

 

 

Meet Raquel Soler-  Raquel Soler holds a BA in Elementary Education and has taught grades 3-8, worked as a tutor, a Teacher's Aide, and also as the principal of a one-room school. She has taught children diagnosed with dyslexia and autism, and was able to help them achieve scholastic improvement over the course of the school year. Raquel is a native to the South, but between having bi-racial parents, attending school in Canada and then traveling to many other countries to do mission work or teach English, she feels that she has had a wonderful opportunities for cultural enrichment. Her favorite part of teaching is fostering a sense of curiosity and exploration in her students and seeing them exceed their own expectations.


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